Why Do Bad Things Happen? Updated for Skeptics and Atheists.

Was Diagoras the world’s first atheist? He is credited that way. Read up on him and you will find that he is remembered as Diagoras the Atheist. Isn’t he the fellow who used a wooden statue of Hercules as fuel to cook his turnips? If Hercules didn’t like it—well, let him do something about it. And how did Diagoras end up an atheist? Wikipedia tells us: “He became an atheist after an [unspecified] incident that happened against him went unpunished by the gods”

Why wasn’t it punished? Why didn’t God fix it? He’s God, after all. Isn’t he supposed to be all-powerful? We hear this all the time from atheists, agnostics and even believers. Why didn’t he solve Diagoras’s problem and stop the man from going atheist?

It’s because he’d never be able to do anything else. He’d be sticking band-aid after never-ending band-aid on a system of things that is inherently unjust, even designedly so. Instead, in keeping with his original purpose, he purposes to replace this system of things with one of his own design. Injustice in that system of things will be a memory only.

After all, what is the injustice that caused Diagoras such soul-searching? Only the one that touched him personally! Had he not witnessed hundreds of injustices in his lifetime? To say nothing of ones his society was built upon. We positively slobber over Greeks as cradle of wisdom, birthplace of democracy, mecca of free thinkers, and so forth, yet they enjoyed their privileged status only on the backs of others. That society embraced slavery. It treated women abominably. And weren’t Greeks the original pedophiles? The same sexual molestation of children so roundly condemned today was enshrined in respectable Greek society. Are these among the injustices Diagoras was concerned with? Did he even recognize them as injustices? Possibly, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Let’s face it, few situations of this world today are win-win. Generally, someone pays the price when we win. Hopefully, for politicians and Pollyannas, it is someone we don’t see in another land or another class. But there is somebody most often and we usually don’t even know about it. The system is designed that way. Get the sufferer as far away from the privileged one as possible so that the latter does not see the link and declares any such talk as but crybaby whining. Don’t think that any political party owns the problem. It is inherent with human self-rule. A new system of things is in keeping with the Bible’s premise that humans were not designed to be independent of God.

Things might have turned out differently. The Adam and Eve and Garden of Eden account, brief though it is, demonstrates God’s original intent. “Further, God blessed them and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it,’” says Genesis 1:28. The very name Eden means “pleasure;” garden of Eden becomes, when translated into Greek, “paradise of pleasure,” and “subduing the earth” is code for spreading those conditions earth wide. Had humans, starting with the first pair, remained content to live under God’s direction, life today would be a far cry from what it is today. But almost from the start, they balked.

Consider Genesis chapter 3: “Now the serpent proved to be the most cautious of all the wild beasts of the field that Jehovah God had made. So it began to say to the woman: ‘Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?’ At this the woman said to the serpent: ‘Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat. But as for [eating] of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, God has said, “you must not eat from it, no, you must not touch it that you do not die.”’

“At this the serpent said to the woman: ‘You positively will not die. For God knows that in the very day of your eating from it your eyes are bound to be opened and you are bound to be like God, knowing good and bad.’ Consequently the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was something to be longed for to the eyes, yes, the tree was desirable to look upon.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses understand the “knowing good and bad” of verse five to be a matter of declaring independence. “You don’t need God telling you what is good and what is bad. You can decide such things yourself and thus be “like God.” The serpent even portrays God as having selfish motive, as though trying to stifle the first couple—a sure way to engender discontent. The ploy was successful. Those first humans chose a course of independence, with far-ranging consequences that have cascaded down to our day.

After a lengthy time interval allowed by God so that all can see the end course of a world run independent of him, he purposes to bring it again under his oversight. This is what the prophet Daniel refers to: “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite.” (Daniel 2:44)

Jesus refers to it, too, in The Lord’s Prayer: “...Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matthew 6:10) Does anybody seriously expect God’s will to be done on earth under the present system? Here and there, one can see a glimmer, of course, but to predominate? The time for God’s will to be done is when his kingdom comes.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that God’s permission of injustice, even evil, is bound up with this trial period of human rule, soon to end. In a sense, the modern-day atheist counterparts of Diagoras have voted for the wrong party. They voted Republicans out of office in favor of Democrats (or vice versa) and they are now incensed that Republicans aren’t delivering on their promises! God’s kingdom is the arrangement that will end injustice. But they continue to vote for human rule. Does anyone think that humans will end injustice?

What the upset ones really want is, not so much an end of injustice, but an end to the symptoms of injustice, mostly the ones that affect them personally, just like with Diagoras. But human rule itself is the source of injustice. We’re simply not designed with the ability to “rule” ourselves. Is it “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely?” God’s Kingdom will not treat the symptoms of injustice; it will uproot the source.

 

From the book: ‘In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction,’ available in  The bookstore

 

 

 

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Job 22-24: No Wonder People Say the God of the Old Testament is Mean

These brothers who say how prayer is communication with God and you never get a busy signal, to modest chuckling from the audience?

Job keeps getting a busy signal!! That’s what he can’t understand. He’s heard those talks, most likely, and even joined in applause at the end. But now he keeps getting a busy signal!

He does express confidence in God—if only he could get through to him:

“Would [God] contend with me using his great power? No, surely he would give me a hearing,” he says. (Job 22:6) If only he could get through. Why does he want to get through? Because his life has devolved into a pile of you-know-what, that’s why, and he wants to fill God’s ear about it!

And then Eliphaz comes around—man, these guys are obnoxious! to say:

“Get to know Him, and you will be at peace; Then good things will come your way. . . If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored.”

‘Why why why doesn’t God hear me? Job cries. ‘I cry out to him day and night, but all I get is a busy signal!’

‘Well, if you weren’t so wicked, it wouldn’t happen,’ is Eliphaz’s answer, and that of the two other companions.

It is only Eliphaz and crew who feel this way? There was a flood of preachers post-Katrina in New Orleans to say the cities ruination was its own fault. God destroyed New Orleans, Pat Robertson declared, because of abortion and homosexuality. But the mayor, Ray Nagin, disagreed. Sharply. At his own news conference, he set the record straight. God did not destroy his town because of abortion and homosexuality.

He destroyed it because of war in Iraq and disunity among black residents!

The reasons differed, according to individual and political peeves. But the common ground was that God did it!

And here are these three frauds advancing that ‘theology’ with Job—God did it! For what reason? Listen to Eliphaz carry on: (22:6-9)

“You strip people of their garments, leaving them naked. You do not give the tired one a drink of water, And you hold back food from the hungry. The land belongs to the powerful man, And the favored one dwells in it. But you sent away widows empty-handed, And you crushed the arms of fatherless children!”

He’s made the point before, more gently, but been rebuffed. He does not like to be contradicted, and so juices up his charge of what Job ‘must have’ done to be suffering so!

Furthermore, to distill his remarks, ‘God could care less if you’re good—what’s that to him? But he sure does care if you’re bad, ever eager to dish out the punishment in that event. No wonder people say the God of the Old Testament is mean! If we are to listen to Pat Robertson and Ray Nagin, the God of the New Testament is, too! And don’t get me going on how when a tiny child dies, it’s because God needed another flower in his perfect heavenly garden; these preachers make a god-awful mess when they try to extract themselves from the corners their wrong doctrines unfailingly paint them into! (in this case, not only the doctrine that the soul can never die, but that all good souls go straight to heaven upon doing so):

Eliphaz the Temanite said in reply: “Can a man be of use to God? Can anyone with insight be of benefit to him? Does the Almighty care that you are righteous, Or does he gain anything because you follow the course of integrity?” (22:1-3) He could care less, is the charge, whereas Santa Claus at least doesn’t give you coal when you’re ’been nice!’

Job is not going to let these guys gaslight him; that’s why he wants his hearing before God—but he keeps getting a busy signal! If he could only argue out his case, he knows God would listen.

“If only I knew where to find God! I would go to his place of dwelling. I would present my case before him And fill my mouth with arguments; I would learn how he would answer me And take note of what he says to me. Would he contend with me using his great power? No, surely he would give me a hearing. There the upright one could set matters straight with him, And I would be acquitted once and for all by my Judge.” (23:3-7)

“But if I go east, he is not there; And I return and I cannot find him. When he is working on the left, I cannot look upon him; Then he turns to the right, but I still do not see him.” (8-9) A busy signal!

Whereupon Job expands on, not just his own suffering, but all the rotten things God puts up with:

“People move boundary markers; They carry off flocks for their own pasture. They drive away the donkey of fatherless children And seize the widow’s bull as security for a loan. They force the poor off the road; The helpless of the earth must hide from them. The poor forage for food like wild donkeys in the wilderness; They seek food in the desert for their children. They must harvest in another’s field And glean from the vineyard of the wicked. They spend the night naked, without clothing; They have no covering for the cold. They are drenched by the mountain rains; They cling to the rocks for lack of shelter. The fatherless child is snatched away from the breast; And the garments of the poor are taken as security for a loan, Forcing them to go about naked, without clothing, And hungry, as they carry the sheaves of grain. They toil among the terrace walls in the heat of the day; They tread the winepresses, yet they go thirsty. The dying keep groaning in the city; The fatally wounded cry for help, But God does not regard this as improper. (24:2-12)

God will fix it; Job does not doubt he will—but it would sure be nice if He would step on it a little. He will fix it in the long run, but as John Kenneth Galbraith said, ‘In the long run we’re all dead,’ and Job’s faith in a resurrection for himself is not so ironclad as some suppose.

“God will use his strength to do away with the powerful; Though they may rise up, they have no assurance of life. God lets them become confident and secure, But his eyes are on everything they do. They are exalted for a little while, then they are no more. They are brought low and gathered like everyone else; They are cut off like heads of grain.” (24: 22-24)

 

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“Show Me Mercy, My Companions, Show Me Mercy!” but They Show Him None: Job 19

Nobody has ever had a wish granted to them like Job:

“If only my words were written down, If only they could be inscribed in a book!” (Job 19:23)

Folded into the world’s all-time best seller, they now are, where they stand as the supreme example of a ‘theodicy,’ an exploration of the the problem of evil—or, define it as the question, ‘Why do the righteous suffer?’

The university-educated promptly shoot themselves in the foot by dividing the Book of Job into two books. The first, in their opinion, is a Jewish fable comprising what is now the first two and the last chapters of Job. The second consists of all the rest, the unending dialogue of Job, his three tormentors, Elihu, and God. You almost suspect that their goal is to flatter the intellect, and it matters not to them that they throw away the key to understanding—as they do with the early Genesis chapters that frame the overall theodicy of which the Book of Job is a subset.

Is it that those first two chapters read too ‘fundamentalist’ for them, they who are educated in critical thinking? They should waste their time on a silly little story of God and the Devil making a wager? As though, once they finish and the outcome with Job has been determined, they say, ‘Whoa! That was loads of fun! Let’s do it again with someone else!’ The notion (which every Jehovah’s Witness understands, even the children) that Job represents a test case of whether humans can keep integrity under trial, is lost upon them.

The other ‘benefit’ of divorcing Job’s trials from the opening chapters which frame it is that you get to spin the poetic dialogue any way you wish without regard to ever settling anything. A windy debate of philosophy—‘Yeah! That’s what I’m talkin about!’ Never mind if it doesn’t lead anywhere. It becomes one of those, ‘they are having their reward in full’ scenarios of which Jesus spoke at Matthew chapter 6.

But if you don’t cleave the book into two, you come away with some understanding. You come away with the knowledge that humans can maintain integrity to God under the most trying circumstances. They may give vent to plenty of ‘wild talk’ along the way, not being privy to the big picture, but eventually the dust settles, all is forgiven, and the louts that leaned into the righteous with their own smug theories of superiority get rebuked.

Those three interrogators do lean into Job, and Job says, ‘Why aren’t you ashamed?’ “These ten times you have rebuked me; You are not ashamed to deal harshly with me.“ (Job 19:3) They should be ashamed—using their robust health to pound an unfortunate into the ground. 

“Show me mercy, my companions, show me mercy, For God’s own hand has touched me,” Job pleads, but they show him none. Aggravated that their initial gentle accusations were rejected, they double down and turn vengeful. “It gets personal,” Kushner says. Gentle insinuations become harsh accusations. The three appoint themselves interrogators for God, though God has asked for no such interrogators, terrorists who will brook no ‘wild talk,’ who will regard it all as apostasy to be put down with machine gun fire. 

What they should do is ‘weep with those who weep.’ What they should do is quote Ecclesiastes 5:2: “Do not be quick with your mouth, nor let your heart speak rashly before the true God, for the true God is in the heavens but you are on the earth. That is why your words should be few.” Job’s three visitors do not use few words; they use many, although they can’t possibly know what they are talking about, since “the true God is in the heavens but you are on the earth.”

Horrific suffering happens today. Some months ago a young woman in a nearby circuit suffered vicious physical assault. Even Job was not physically assaulted. Nor did he suffer the complete betrayal of the human justice system when the perpetrator was brought to court. Her life irrevocably changed with scars that are not visible, she decided to go public, as a first step towards healing. She’s very brave. She also hopes, no doubt, to forestall any speculation from those who see her altered behavior but have not the facts to put it in context. It’s good congregations are in the Book of Job lately, from which we may draw the conclusion that we don’t need them.

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Job 12: ‘Who Among All These Does Not Know that the Hand of Jehovah Has Done This [Calamity]?

I had the Bible reading last week and tried to do it as Brother Friend advised: “Put some fire in your talk . . . or put your talk in the fire.”

I read Job 12:1-2 as though Job is kicking back at his accusers—it seems pretty obvious.

Then Job said in reply: 2 “Surely you are the people who know, And wisdom will die out with you!  3 But I too have understanding. I am not inferior to you. Who does not know these things?

‘Look, any donkey knows the things you are saying, but what makes you think it applies to me?’ is his complaint.

Then, some sarcasm about how the wicked and the fools sail along breezily, suffering no punishment at all: “The carefree person has contempt for calamity, Thinking it is only for those whose feet are unsteady.  6 The tents of robbers are at peace, And those who provoke God are secure, Those who have their god in their hands.”

Then—a bit more interpretive, his contrasting accusation that, whereas Eli, Bill, and Zop can’t read what’s going on, even the animals, birds, fish, and the very earth, can. Everyone knows what’s going on except these three guys—and they would teach that trio if the latter weren’t so blockheaded: ‘The hand of Jehovah has done this—unjustly caused all his calamity:  

However, ask, please, the animals, and they will instruct you; Also the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you.  8 Or give consideration to the earth, and it will instruct you; And the fish of the sea will declare it to you.  9 Who among all these does not know That the hand of Jehovah has done this?  

The rest of the chapter is Job’s diatribe that God plays havoc with what he’s created, for who knows what reason? Maybe just for his own amusement. I’m not sure those final verses . . . 

He makes counselors go barefoot, And he makes fools of judges. He loosens the bonds imposed by kings, And he binds a belt around their waist. He makes priests walk barefoot, And he overthrows those who are firmly established in power; He deprives trusted advisers of speech And takes away the sensibleness of old men; He pours out contempt upon nobles, And he makes powerful ones weak; He reveals deep things from the darkness, And he brings deep darkness into the light; He makes nations grow great in order to destroy them; He enlarges nations, that he may lead them into exile. He takes away the understanding of the leaders of the people And makes them wander in trackless wastelands. They grope in darkness, where there is no light; He makes them wander about like drunken men. (17-25)

. . . should be read as though Job, in his distress, nonetheless rises to the occasion to deliver an impromptu talk in praise of God, praising him for thwarting the plans of the wicked. Nah, in happier times, yes, but not now. Now, in the midst of unrelenting anguish following unspeakable tragedy, is he not bewailing that God thwarts them all? Good or bad—it makes no difference to him. ‘Is not wisdom and understanding found in the aged?’ (vs 12) Well, nobody is older than He. “With him there are wisdom and mightiness; He has counsel and understanding.” And to what end does he put these qualities? To set up his creatures like dominoes, then nudge the end one to see the entire row topple!

Remember, we’ve opened the door in recent years to Job venting some ‘wild talk.’ (6:3) Is he not doing it here? 

From chapter 10, the previous week’s reading: “You have given me life and loyal love; You have guarded my spirit with your care.” A good sentiment. But the next verse is less good. “But you secretly intended to do these things. I know that these things are from you.” (vs 12-13) Translation? He set me up for a fall!

I think Job felt this way because that’s how felt in my own perfect prolonged storm of calamitous events—less severe than Job’s in most respects, but as severe in others. If you didn’t know of the heavenly events described in the book’s first two chapters, which Job didn’t, is that not exactly what one might think in his shoes?

And long ago I read somewhere that ‘scholars’—the critical kind, no doubt, think the first two chapters of Job were cobbled on later, that they are not original. Someday I’ll look to see whether they provide any justification for this view beyond that it reads too ‘fundamentalist’ for them, and that it solves the problem, whereas they prefer windy back-and-forth that flatters the intellect but doesn’t solve the problem unsolved, thereby leaving them to spin it any way they like. “I would never say that higher education is valueless,” says a sister who has benefited from her degree, “but it does have a way of taking things that are simple and making them complicated.”

*(Indeed, the ‘educated’ think there are two Jobs; one is the first two and last chapters, the other all the rest. I think the appeal is to put one in position to understand neither, yet continue to flatter the intellect. In the case of the unattached first, you get to isolate it and thus reassure your educated friends that you, too, are not so stupid as to believe in a literal devil. In the case of the unattached 2nd, you get to spin wordy treatises on the wordy speeches, unconcerned about whether they go anywhere.)

Sort of like when Ted Putsch, my impetuous Bible student from Tom Irregardless and Me, who hasn’t yet learned tact and should be locked up for six months until he does, leans into my full-of-himself return visit, Bernard Strawman, with, “Look, it couldn’t be simpler! Or is that the problem with you?!”

 

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Question: Why Are Job’s Three Comforters “Afraid?”

Question: Why are the three comforters who pay Job a visit “afraid?”

As in: “For this is how you have become to me; You have seen the terror of my calamity, and you are afraid.” (Job 6:21)

Of course, we don’t know for sure that they were. It is what Job says of them after they traipse in from afar, put on a fantastic dust-throwing show, then watch him like vultures for 7 days before opening their mouths:

“Three companions of Job heard about all the calamities that had come upon him, and each came from his own place—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. So they agreed to meet together to go and sympathize with Job and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. They began to weep loudly and to rip their garments apart, and they threw dust into the air and onto their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.” (2:11-13)

But my money’s on Job—even though Eliphaz also makes the cut for words quoted in the New Testament. It is his “He catches the wise in their own cunning” (5:13) that is repeated verbatim at 1 Corinthians 3:19) So he can’t be a rotter through and through to have lines taken up by Paul. More on this later. Meantime, why is my money on Job and his assessment that these ones who look on his calamity are “afraid.” How is it they are afraid?

Isn’t it because they know, deep down, that what happened to Job could just as easily happen to them? Job, who reaches the point of cursing the day he was born, Job who says: “For what I have dreaded has come upon me . . . I have had no peace, no quiet, no rest” (3:25-26) —they know it could just as easily happen to them. They dread it, too.

That’s why they have to carry on with more and more assertion that God is punishing Job for past sins, even though nobody can point to any. It’s all a facade, though they don’t know it themselves. They have to maintain the facade, for they cannot bear the alternative—that they might be living fine and easy as you please one moment, doing nothing wrong, and then one day Job-like calamity falls upon them. They cannot bear to think it. So they must maintain Job is being punished for something or other. 

When Job protests that he has not done anything wrong, at least not egregiously so, they double down, all of them do, building upon one another’s remarks, ultimately becoming truly vicious. Sometimes counselors do that—they double down. You hope they won’t; you hope when their words are resisted, they will at least consider that they may have missed the mark. Alas, there is a certain type of counselor that doesn’t like to be contradicted. That type doubles down. 

So it is with these blunderbuss counselors of Job. They’re not bad guys, probably. Never mind my last post when I said they were—what was I smoking? No, they seem to have meant well—initially. They didn’t have to come visit Job at all, and yet they did. But Job’s calamity strikes unexpected terror into their own hearts, so they pursue a path that safeguards them, regardless of the effect it has on poor Job.

 

Other posts on Job here and here.

 

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An Updated Explanation of Everything: Part 1

I’m starting to play with the notion, for an upcoming talk, that if you wanted the policies of one party to prevail, would you vote for the other party? So it is that Jesus demonstrates control over the elements (fed the crowds, stilled the windstorm, healed some sick)—deeds that neither of the two political parties can touch. And yet people keep voting for the human parties that can’t do these good things.

To be sure, the promises of the kingdom of God are future, whereas those of the two squabbling human parties are here and now. Still, since they so eclipse human promises, one would almost think more people would ‘vote’ (take interest in) the doings of that kingdom rather than campaign incessantly for the human parties.

Similarly, if you consistently vote for one party, can you be livid that the policies of the other do not prevail? So it is when skeptics and atheists fume at God for not eliminating suffering—blaming him for every famine and natural disaster. Why didn’t he stop it from happening? Well, they keep voting for the wrong party. You would think they would vote for the party that can control these things. Instead, the vote for the party[s] that not only can’t control these things, but that exacerbates, even causes, them. The previous New York governor said he didn’t want to weigh in on the climate change debate, but 100-year floods were now occurring every two years, so clearly something was happening

To be fair, the ‘here and now’ will generally capture attention before that of ‘the future.’ That will favor the promises of the human parties, even if so many of them aren’t realized. There are some people who give barely a thought to the future—how do they know it will bode them any good? Maybe it will be like Nicholson’s character in Batman, who yells, “Hey, Eckhert! Think of the future!” before putting a bullet through the creepy lout.

The reason kingdom promises (feed the crowds, still the storm, heal the sick) must wait is that time is needed to complete and clear out the wreckage from the failed experiment of human self-rule. Put in a nutshell, that ‘experiment’ goes:

God: ‘You can’t rule yourselves.’

A&E: ‘Watch us.’

God: Okay, I will, and when the elapsed time is done, we will see if you have capably ruled the planet or brought it to the precipice of disaster.’

A lot of time is spanned.

The planet is not at the precipice of disaster today? Just like the Barry McQuire song; “You don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction?” Accordingly, our Lord provides a few examples of feeding, controlling, and healing. He didn’t do everyone, for his time was not then. He provided a few tokens, as evidence of what he will do when his rulership arrived. If a candidate promised to heal the sick and provided no evidence he could do so, would you believe him?

Yikes! That song of Barry Mcquire? He sang that 60 years ago. As though a false prophet!! I know someone else who has been called a false prophet a time or two.

On the other hand, if you have labor pains and they subside, it doesn’t mean that a birth is not coming. Not wanting to take anything for granted and knowing the importance of proof, I ran this statement past my wife. She confirmed it was true.

To be continued…

 

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A Review of Psalm 10: “This Guy Whines too Much?” Or Just the Right Amount?

“[The wicked one] waits in ambush near the settlements . . . 4BAD6B9F-FC60-43F5-81A3-FD02808BEA18His eyes are watching for an unfortunate victim. He waits in his hiding place like a lion in its lair. He waits to seize the helpless one. . . . The victim is crushed and brought down.” (Psalm 10:8-10)

I don’t really know anyone like this. Even of the sleazy mechanic who billed me for a new carburetor on my Tesla I wouldn’t go that far.

On and on the psalmist goes about how the wicked one shakes you like a dog with a rat. I begin to see why Rosie said when she first read the psalms as a young girl, “Man, this guy sure whines a lot!” Who in the world is he talking about?

They picked on him a lot back in the day, I suppose, but today, while the verse might not find fulfillment in your neighbor who plays his music too loud, you could apply it to machinations of humans, be they political parties, governments, or powers transcending governments who push schemes, sometimes will full knowledge they are making you trouble, doing so for their idea of the ‘greater good.’ That scenario fits the tone of the psalm. It’s not for nothing that the Bible likens governments to ‘the heavens.’ They drench you one moment, scorch you the next, freeze you after that, and there’s not a thing you can do about it.

Verses like #4 suggest it’s all the work of the atheists:

“In his haughtiness, the wicked man makes no investigation; All his thoughts are: “There is no God.’”

Sometimes it is that way but it is not necessarily so. Other verses allow that they may acknowledge there’s a God but count him as a non-factor.

“He says in his heart: “God has forgotten. He has turned away his face. He never notices.” (vs 11)

Besides, here’s a commentator (in connection with ‘the senseless one who says in his heart ‘there is no Jehovah’) who says there were no atheists back then, at least not enough to single out as a class: “It never occurred to any writer of the OT [Hebrew Scriptures] to prove or argue the existence of God. . . .It is not according to the spirit of the ancient world in general to deny the existence of God, or to use arguments to prove it. The belief was one natural to the human mind and common to all men.” Dr. James Hastings, A Dictionary of the Bible.

It matters little to say there is a God. What matters is what attributes you assign to him. As much as we think it dated that ancient peoples worship different gods, and say ‘Isn’t there just one God?’ if we hold to radically different views of God, is it not in effect different gods that we envision? Just like you mention Howie Horseradish and I say ‘I know that guy!’ But when further discussion reveals that the attributes and physical qualities don’t line up, I say, ‘Oh, I guess I don’t know him after all. We’re speaking of two persons who happen to share the same name.’

I’ll take God with the attributes he assigns himself. Who are these characters that assign him whatever attributes they find convenient? I’ll take the overall lesson of the psalm. They’re cocky as all get-out but God will eventually set matters straight. It’s an underlying theme of the Bible. Humans insist upon self-rule (the underlying Genesis message of knowing ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ God says, ‘Don’t try it—you’ll mess it all up.’ They do so anyway. God says, ‘Alright, I allot you such-and-such an amount of time to make good on your claim. When the time is up, we’ll see what kind of a world you’ve made.’

“[The wicked one] says in his heart: ‘I will never be shaken; For generation after generation I will never see calamity.’” (vs 6)

What says the psalmist of God? “Rise up, O Jehovah. O God, lift up your hand. . . . you do see trouble and distress. You look on and take matters in hand. To you the unfortunate victim turns. . . . Break the arm of the wicked and evil man, So that when you search for his wickedness, You will find it no more.” (vs 12-15)

 

******  The bookstore

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

The Instant Answer of Sunday’s Watchtower and What to do About Adam and Eve

Much was made at Sunday’s Watchtower Study over the Genesis 3:15 prophesy. Instantly, upon the first couple’s fall into sin, Jehovah had the answer as to how he would fix it. The typical response to disaster is to mope, to be bummed, to say ‘poor me,’ for awhile, even to fall into depression. Only after that process do you begin to wonder if anything can be salvaged. God had the answer immediately.

“I was touched when I learned that Jehovah took action immediately so that mankind would not be left without hope.” said the sis in paragraph 17.  Someone else drew the contrast to how humans routinely screw up during crises, drawing on the worldwide pandemic response as the latest example. What a chaotic mess that was (is)!

Adam and Eve may be okay for us but they are hard to swallow for the general public in our neck of the woods. When I first came to learn of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was astounded that here were people who actually believed in Adam and Eve. They didn’t look dumb—yet all my life I had believed that only the reddest of the rednecks believed in Adam and Eve!

If you dismiss them, you toss away all hope of answering the deepest questions of life. ‘Why is their evil and suffering?’—gone, if you dismiss Adam and Eve. ‘How is it that people die?’ as well as related questions of hope for the dead—none of them can be answered without Adam and Eve. So don’t get too hasty in giving them to boot, regardless of what the learned ones say. The learning of the learned ones is not always the bee’s knees. Sometimes it is the “foolishness” that “catches the wise in their own cunning.” (1 Corinthians 3:19) If, thinking yourself very clever, you have tossed away answers to the vexing problems of life, you have indeed been caught in your own cunning.

The trick with Adam and Eve is to view them as though you were putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You are trying 
to replicate the picture on the box top. Nobody cares if the picture is real or not. That concern is shelved if it even occurs to someone.

Upon completing the puzzle of a Book that was long regarded as a hodgepodge of conflicting ideas, a hopeless mess that one ought not remotely dream of untangling—and yet the completed puzzle is evidence it has been done . . .  Well, then, at that time you just may want to revisit your assessment as to whether the box top cover is real.

Once you’ve put together the puzzle and have reproduced the picture on the cover, you’re pretty much immune to someone saying you put it together wrong. And when you are cruising down the highway at 60 MPH, even the scientist on the radio telling you your car doesn’t run does not cause undue distress.

 

******  The bookstore

 

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

“If They are From […….] You Can be Sure They Will Ask for Money.” Part 1

I accept virtually anyone on FB who sends a friend request. Just a quick scan to see nothing obscene or blatantly self-serving on their profile and they’re in. Whereupon—and this is far more common coming developing lands, they direct message me with a “Hi. How are you?”

This drives me nuts. Facebook doesn’t work that way! People I don’t know think I can conduct a dozen exchanges about nothing per day? I ignore them all, assuming they are scams of some sort or in some way self-serving. 

But I am from Western background. It may be that friends from elsewhere do use Facebook that way—as a platform for individual chats. Either way, I’m not up for it, but I am curious. “Can you shed any light on this?” I asked Emma, born, raised, and who lived many adult years in Africa?

(Ha! There was one sister I friended from South American who sent several ‘Hellos’—all unanswered by me, then “Oops. Sorry. I see you are marry.” Whereupon I did respond with a “Not to worry, Sonya. Nice to have a friend from [wherever it was].” And then back to DM silence. For the most part, I don’t even look at that side of the app.)

In Africa, especially from [country name withheld] - you can be sure they will ask you for money later on,” Emma replied.

Why, in your opinion? Are they 1) scammers who are not Witnesses at all, 2) Witnesses who are opportunists, or 3) just plain genuine Witnesses with a material lack? 

All three and more,” she replied.

Odd she should mention it. There was a supposed brother who appeared out of nowhere for one of our Zoom meetings. His country of origin I forget, but it was Africa. Several made a big fuss over him after the meeting, and a certain older sister, known for hospitality and generosity, exchanged contact information. Sure enough, he soon began asking for money. Some of Jehovah’s Witnesses are the most naive persons in the world.

I’m not shocked at such things, but neither do I play that game. I know there is crushing lack in many places, but I also know there’s no way to distinguish between who is who. I know the branch will strive to keep body and soul together, but only in the most basic manner.

There was a another brother years ago from a U.S. faraway state who moved in to our congregation —he knew one of the local publishers. He was a pleasant enough guy, genuine, but in time he became a real mooch, hitting up one after another for money. Of course, this puts people in an awkward spot, and some recoil almost in horror at the thought. It got around to such an extent that Ray addressed it in a local needs part. Screwy as Ray was (he later tested false positive for anointing and true positive for apostasy) he made a very balanced presentation—that it was just one of myriad foibles human imperfection has stuck us with, that we have to deal with, perhaps firmly, but ought not provoke an overreaction, as we all fall short in many ways.

Emma: A Norwegian sister I know married a lovely African brother and went to pioneer in Africa - Kongo region. She told me that the sisters constantly asked her for money.  If your skin is white and you come from Europe or USA they think you are very rich. In  most African cultures families used to share everything to survive.  They all eat out of one pot of food - so everyone gets a little.  Things have rapidly changed in the last generation. Very few Africans share what they have with others.... becoming selfish.  

So, they really thought the sister was hiding her money somewhere.  They thought her family was sending her money and she was hiding it.  In fact she worked so hard!  They build a little holiday flat with hard earned money and rented it out to visitors to survive.  That was their sole income. …

When she arrived in Africa, she lived without a bathroom - washed in the community faucet in open fashion until her husband built her a private African place to wash. When I met her she told me about her time in Africa.  I immediately had so much respect for her because I knew where she came from and what she went through.  She told me that none of her family understood.  I was the first to understand a rural home in Africa. She really apprecieted that I understood.

I have camped rough in Africa but I will not be able to live with very little amenities like she did for a very long time. I do not blame them for asking... and trying a lot.  But the Western culture is so different... we are shocked. Some can be opportunists - even if they have a lot of money. 

see Part 2:

the bookstore

 

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Tracing the Universal Court Case

I told my knowledgeable pal that I was trying to trace our ‘universal court case’ explanation for God’s permission of evil. Where and when did that develop? In-house or are there forerunners, even duplicates, elsewhere? He sent me off on a wild goose chase hunting up a certain Great Courses lecture series entitled Philosophy of Religion. He said he had come across a Seventh Day Adventist who said of that course that finally the SDA explanation for evil was validated. The professor included it in one of his options, even with the endorsement that this explanation made the most sense to him but also that it was little known these days. So I reviewed all his long-winded explanations of evil—not his, but those of others that he explores and shoots down one by one before coming to the last—the obscure one that he found the most logically consistent. 

It was all a red-herring! What the professor finally came to was not the universal court case explanation that still, to my knowledge, is found only in Jehovah’s organization. What he finally arrived at was an explanation that took “dualism” into account (none of the others did!) that one good being (God) is responsible for good, but he is not responsible for bad because he has an evil counterpart (the devil) to pin all the blame on. That was what the professor found the most logically consistent, someone to blame the bad on, not the actual explanation as to why God would allow that evil one to exist and make mischief!

This was an eye-opener to me because I had assumed everyone knew about Satan and took him into account when factoring in evil. In fact, none of them do! And so when the prof finally entertains one that does, as though encountering an oasis in a desert of BS, he says, “you know, that makes a certain amount of sense”—even though it falls far short of what any servant of Jehovah learns from Day One. 

Of course, everyone knows about Satan, but he’s apparently been relegated to fairy tale status, just like Adam and Eve, so he doesn’t come up for serious consideration when the “educated” people congregate! It really is so that people educate themselves into foolishness. I have yielded to this myself. Somewhere in my blog I confessed that, since my intended audience will be the type that are not so sure about God, preaching Satan will really send them over the edge, and so I rarely do it. But that’s not to say if you’re speaking of the origin of evil you can ignore it! Sheesh. It’s kind of integral. But the great thinkers do ignore it.

Relegate the Devil to the status of metaphor if you must—same thing for Adam and Eve. That way you can at least play with the metaphor and figure just what is its application. Be like the mathematician who assumes a condition is true just to see where that logic will take him. But don’t just throw it away unless you are determined not to find an answer to your question.

So now if I am to pursue my project, and there’s one other to complete before I get to it, I must have insider access to the really old publications—maybe I can trace the beginnings of the universal court case there. They’re not available to any Tom, Dick, or Harry, because most Tom, Dick, or Harrys are not Witnesses but only want to dig up dirt or find changed beliefs over the years—and beat us over the head with them.

Sometimes I think there should be a disclaimer on all the old stuff specifically directed to such ones: “If you have to go back 100 years to dig up dirt, there can’t be that much dirt to dig.” Preface it all by saying how opposers look a little silly if they harp on ‘flip-flops’ since it is freely admitted that they happen all the time. Use analogies like the watchman peering into the gloom, how sometimes he will call an imaginary approaching ship, how the alternative is the guy who doesn’t call the approaching ship until its bow pinches his toes. Point out that nobody thinks now as they did in 1880. Point out all the times they incorrectly understood things in Bible times. (The trick is not to sanitize the present—it is to desanitize the past.)

Of course, modern-day ‘thinkers’ will call that ‘whataboutism.’ What used to be called ‘keeping things in perspective’ and was universally thought a wise thing to do is now called whataboutism. If we didn’t consider apostates the bogeyman, creating almost a superstitious fear of them, we might be able to handle their salvos better than we do.

At any rate, maybe I should follow the course that I recommended to another—write and ask for access, not like she said—for everyone, but just for me.  The trouble is I fear I may get the same response as my old college housemate did from the government, or actually from me pretending to be the government. 

College students back then were inclined to ridicule the ‘townie’ patriotism of those in the off-campus community, making much of how the peace sign was the “footprint of the American chicken.” Kevin would do this, more good-naturedly than most because he was a townie himself. He came from a tiny town called Madrid, NY (emphasis on the first syllable, not the last, ridiculous though that may sound. Moreover the ‘Ma’ was not pronounced ‘Muh’ like in the Spanish city but like the ‘maaaaa’ of a bleating sheep!). So that was the backdrop—taking the ‘chicken’s’ way out by enrolling in college. At the time there were student deferments from the draft, but everyone else was off to Nam—as though college-educated students alone were important and everyone else might just as well be cannon fodder. 

Amidst that backdrop, I sent my buddy a form letter as though from the government:

“This country has enough (a long check list of college majors followed, and I checked off the major that was his), Kevin! What we need now are soldiers. Enlist now, you chicken!”

So I am afraid that I might get a letter from Bethel: “This organization has enough authors, TrueTom. What we need now is pioneers! Sign up now, you slacker! Pick up that telephone! Sharpen up that pencil! Get off that internet!”

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

The Chart that Would Disprove God

Take a good look at this chart, for it is a serious attempt to prove God doesn’t exist. If he did, the thinking goes, he would have patched up evil long ago.

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Note how the chart assumes God is like a Santa Claus who must shower presents regardless of naughty or nice. Note how the bottom-left two boxes present the point, “Can God make a world in which there is free will and yet ensure that no one will use their free will to the detriment of others?” Note how whoever wrote this chart thinks he is smart for positing a question akin to: “Can God make a mountain he cannot move?” Oh yeah, that’s real brilliant. Gotcha.

Throw back at these yo-yos the dilemma of how the lead runner in any race can never be overtaken, since to do so the pursuing runner would have to close half the distance first, and then half that remaining distance, and then half that remaining distance, and then half that remaining distance, and then half that remaining distance. It becomes clear that the second runner can never overtake the first. Then lead these this person to a foot race where exactly that thing happens and watch his brain fry. His ‘critical thinking’ has deceived him.

There are a few other turds masquerading as diamonds in the chart  Each of them is a result of the chartist’s rigid presumption of what God must be like. How many can you find?

Completely absent from the chart is any conception that evil might be temporarily permitted to achieve a certain higher and lasting aim. It is a chart presented from the standpoint of a child who knows what he wants and does not care to know anything else.

Let your finger go down the flow chart until it reaches the box: “Then why is there evil?” Note the three choices supplied along with the chartist’s rash assumption that he has covered all bases. They are:

1) If God is all knowing, he would know what we would do when tested, so there is no need to test us.

Note how this takes all the dignity out of being human. Some people cherish the opportunity to prove their loyalty to a cause greater than they. They will not be satisfied with a test tube result that predicts their loyalty—and with that unpleasantness out of the way, let the good times roll!

2) An all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God could and would destroy Satan.

Note the assumption that if he could and would do it, he can and must do it NOW. Again, it is the reasoning of a child who expects presents under the tree on Christmas Day, and not one minute later.

3) Could God have created a universe without these?

This choice leads to the dilemma already mentioned, akin to: ‘Can God make a mountain that he cannot move?’ Maybe these guys can feast on this as ‘wisdom,’ but it doesn’t quite cut it for me.

Does not all of this validate such verses as 1 Corinthians 1:19-20?

For it is written: “I will make the wisdom of the wise men perish, and the intelligence of the intellectuals I will reject.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this system of things? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not get to know God through its wisdom, God was pleased through the foolishness of what is preached to save those believing.... Because a foolish thing of God is wiser than men, and a weak thing of God is stronger than men.”

The chart that would disprove God assumes he must also be omnipresent (everywhere at once), omnisciencient (knows everything at all times), and “all-good.” Usually the third member of this trinity is ‘omnipotent’ (all-powerful) but in this case the chartist has substituted all-good so he can blame God for whatever isn’t going right.

Simply quote one of those verses in which God says he is going to go down and check out something—such as the complaint made about Sodom.

Then Jehovah said: “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is very heavy.  I will go down to see whether they are acting according to the outcry that has reached me. And if not, I can get to know it.” (Genesis 18:20-21) 

He wasn’t there. He didn’t know. I love the personification. Not so omnipresent after all, is he? Nor omniscient. The Bible does not present him that way. To be fair, you cannot really blame the chartist for these assumptions. Church teaching consistently paints him this way, even though the Bible does not. If it weren’t for the junk food of church teaching, maybe atheists wouldn’t have strayed into atheism in search of nourishment.

As to the third point, “all-good,” note how the chart assumes God’s role is to bless the doings of a society founded on rebellion against him. Note how it assumes God’s role is to prevent the inevitable bad consequences of such rebellion from occurring. 

Thus, every assumption the chart make about God is wrong. No wonder its conclusions are so cock-eyed. Now, to be sure, those cock-eyed conclusions might remain even if it had begun with accurate assumptions—the pull away from God is strong and more rooted in emotion than in reason. “All his thoughts are: ‘There is no God,’” says Psalm 10:4, about “the wicked man [who] makes no investigation.” (italics mine)

The emotional pull is the urge to kick over the traces—to break free from anyone or anything that would tell you what to do. In their insistence upon pursuing the petty freedoms that this world has to offer, chafing at whatever would seem to restrict them, they end up overlooking the substantial freedoms spirituality offers.

What can you do with people like that? In the case of those who once believed in God and abandoned it for atheism, you could liken them to the fellow who loses millions in the stock market. Undeterred, he celebrates the $10K that he still has left, reasoning about the rest: “They were just paper gains, anyway.”

M. D. Craven—‘Master Driver’ Craven, he used to tell his employer, Greyhound Bus—he had the Banger-to-Boston run for many years, and they would say, “Who gave you that title?” to which he would respond with, “Nobody did—I self-assumed it” (his real first name was Merrill, not Master), whose driving skills fell off precipitously in his older years, and who used to say when his car was on the fritz, “Tom, can I borrow your car?” and whom I just KNEW was going to wrap it around a tree, yet he had been so good to me that even had he said: “Tom, can I borrow your car? I want to wrap it around a tree,” I would have felt obliged to hand him the keys—used to love this verse:

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Merrill loved it for the appeal from God to reconcile, with the benefit of relieving heavy matters that might weigh upon one’s conscience. “Come now, and let us reason together,” I can still hear him say, quoting the words from the King James Version of the Bible.

But it is not actually a good rendering of the verse. If you ‘reason’ with God, it will mean that you will take notes. You will not be telling him how to run heaven. It will sort of be like reasoning with Ford about your new Mustang. You will take notes at their owner’s manual that you should run it ‘shiny side up and greasy side down.’ You won’t expect them to be enthralled at how you intend to do it just the reverse.

The New World Translation, which didn’t come upon the scene until the 1960’s, well after M. D. Craven’s hay day, and so he still spoke from the KJV, corrects this faux pas, as do most modern translations. It renders Isaiah 1:18 as: “Let us set matters straight between us.” That’s better. It is the same warm appeal, the same alleviating benefits, but absent any sense that we will be instructing God. He will hear us out, to be sure, but it is not as though he will be benefiting from the pointers we may offer him.

It is like the Zoom prayer the other day to close out a small group meeting; the one offering it was just a little too obvious working in his own narrative. He wove in, as evidence of our stressful Covid-19 times, the comment about lines that stretched from (he named the far-apart streets) as people lined up for free masks. I said to my wife:  “It’s as though he imagines Jehovah saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that.  Backed up that far? Wow. Things are really getting tight down there.’”

Alas, the explanation of why God permits suffering involves Adam and Eve. This will make it a non-starter for many people today. Do not let it be so with you. Treat is as a metaphor if you like—that will work for the sake of an examination. Treat it as though it were the cover of a jigsaw puzzle that you assemble for the pure satisfaction of assembling it. Only afterwards do you consider whether the scene is actually something you have come across before.

 

***visit the bookstore:

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'